MMA is a combat sport that is rising fast in all parts of the world. On one side, it is very popular among young people who want to pursue a career in fighting. On the other, it is a highly effective system in real combat also popular among average people who want to learn self-defense tactics or improve fitness. But how long does it take to learn MMA actually?
The answer depends on many factors like how talented you are, are you dedicated enough, and most importantly, do you have previous martial art experience? People who join MMA from wrestling or BJJ, for instance, can master MMA in “just” 2 or 3 years because they already have a strong base. On the other side, people who need to learn MMA from scratch must spend between 5 and 7 years on the mats on average. But again, this also depends on many factors.
Sounds like a lot of time, right? To better understand why it takes so long, let’s first take a look at what MMA is as a concept.
Why MMA is so difficult to learn?
As its full name indicates, mixed martial arts is a form of combat that consists of various grappling and ground fighting techniques put into one system. It is the closest humans have got to legal street fighting as MMA fighters can fight on the feet using strikes, grapple, or fight on the ground. They do damage using all limbs as weapons to strike, fight in the clinch, are allowed to take the opponent down, strike the grounded opponent or use chokes and joint locks to submit them.
Bear in mind that not a single martial art out there or a combat system can prepare you for all aspects of MMA. No, to develop all-around skills, athletes need to cross-train in the following four martial arts, which over time, emerged as the best in each segment of the game:
- Boxing (punching combos, footwork, angles, head movement)
- Muay Thai (kicks, punches, knee and elbow strikes, clinch fighting)
- Wrestling (takedowns, throws, clinch, and ground fighting)
- BJJ (chokes, joint locks, dominant positions on the ground)
To become a skilled fighter, you must be skilled in each of these four martial arts. Sounds like there is too much to learn, right? Well, this is why MMA takes so much time to master, and why there are multiple ways you can approach training, more about that in the following segment.
How long does it take to become good at MMA?
On average, people who start training MMA without any previous martial art background need between 5 and 7 years to develop solid skills. This is only if they show up 4–5 times per week, and avoid any serious injuries that might put them on the sidelines for months. On the other side, athletes with a solid base in BJJ, wrestling, or Muay Thai, for instance, need much less time, around 2 or 3 years to be more precise.
Let’s assume that you have zero previous fighting experience and want to become an MMA fighter. There are two roads you can take and here is an explanation of both.
Option 1: instead of going into an MMA gym, you can focus on developing a solid base in one of many martial arts that represent a good starting point or “base” for cage fighting. For example, you can choose BJJ or wrestling for grappling, or Muay Thai and boxing for striking. After training for around 1 or 2 years, you can start attending MMA classes where you will add more skills on top of your base. Every top level UFC fighter excels in one particular martial art and is well versed in the other aspects of the game.
Option 2: most young athletes choose to go straight to the MMA gym. Training in these schools is a mix between grappling, ground fighting, striking, and mixing it all together. On a weekly basis, you will split your time between wrestling, BJJ, and striking classes. This method of training is good because it allows you to quickly develop all around skills.
Athletes who have a martial art background already excel in one aspect of the game. Instead of learning it all from scratch, they need to focus “just” on the aspects they are missing, which is a reason why they need less time to become good at MMA.
What is the best base for MMA?
If you look at the data, wrestling has produced most UFC champions thus far, with BJJ being in the second spot. This means that fighters who have a strong background in grappling arts tend to have more success than the ones who come from striking like boxing or Muay Thai. But why is wrestling so dominant in MMA?
The main reason is the fact that wrestlers are the ones who choose where the fight takes place. It is much easier for a wrestler to defend and counter the attack from a striker than for a striker to defend against a takedown. Blocking strikes and moving away is a natural reaction while grappling is all about leverage and technique.
The same stands when it comes to the learning curve. It is much easier for a wrestler or BJJ fighter to learn how to use or defend against strikes than it is for a striker to learn how to grapple. For instance, an average person without any martial art background needs 1 year of boxing training to develop solid skills, or 2 or 3 years to learn Muay Thai. BJJ, on the other side, takes between 7 to 10 years on average.
What is the best base for you truly depends on many factors, including your personal preference. Some people are naturally more gifted at striking, and vice versa. The best way to find out is to try both.
What age is ideal to start learning MMA?
The answer to this question truly depends on whether you want to compete as a fighter, or just want to train in MMA to learn self-defense and get in shape. Regardless if you are male or female, it is never too late to join an MMA gym if your goal is to get a good workout and learn how to fight. On the other side, there are limitations if you want to pursue a pro career, then the late 20s and 30s are probably too late.
However, there have been fighters like Yoel Romero, Daniel Cormier, or Randy Couture who joined MMA in their 30s. Yet, bear in mind that these were all Olympic-level wrestlers who managed to quickly pick up the fundamentals of MMA.
Is learning MMA safe?
When it comes to training, MMA is a relatively safe sport to train in but bear in mind that the risk of injuries is still more than present. No matter what type of protective gear you wear, or how careful you are not to get hurt in sparring, it is just a matter of time before you actually get hurt. In fact, MMA training is not about whether you are going to get hurt or not, it’s about WHEN and how badly.
MMA gym is a place where students learn up to four different martial arts at the same time. Rolling on the ground with a partner, exchanging kicks, punches, knees, and elbows, doing grueling cardio, and strength workouts, all of this put a lot of stress on your body. To stay healthy, you must listen to your body, and give it enough rest. Also, you must follow a strict diet and take enough minerals, vitamins, and nutrients.
When it comes to competition, cage fighting is a sport that has the highest injury rate out of all other combat sports according to studies. But bear in mind that MMA is not as dangerous as boxing when it comes to long-term injuries like concussions, brain damage, or facial injuries.
What gear do you need to start training MMA?
To start out, you don’t need to buy the latest gear that costs hundreds of dollars. Here is a detailed list of all the things you need:
- Mouth-guard — is one of the most important things because it allows you maintain a nice smile and all teeth in place despite being hit in the mouth all the time.
- Rash-Guard — is not mandatory but good to have when you are doing BJJ and grappling classes.
- Hand wraps — or inner gloves add extra support and protection to your knuckles and wrist and help your hands absorb the force of the impact better.
- Head guard — is mandatory in every good MMA gym because it prevents facial injuries and absorbs the impact. It prevents many serious injuries like concussions and brain damage.
- MMA gloves – is a mandatory gear, but you can start with regular boxing gloves in most gyms before you move to less padded MMA gloves.
- MMA Shorts — are specially designed to survive all the grabbing and pulling while rolling on the ground. You can train in regular sports shorts, but these won’t last long.
- Shin pads — are a piece of equipment that protects your shins while you are kicking the heavy bag, or exchanging kicks with your partner.
Groin cup — does not need any introduction. Since MMA involves a lot of kicking, punching, wrestling, and rolling on the ground, hits to the groin area are quite common.